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Listening Effectively

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Problem solving requires effective listening skills. When you listen effectively, you help calm the other person’s emotions so they feel heard. Once emotions are deescalated then both parties can use cognitive problem-solving to generate options.

Pay attention to your listening behaviors. Be cautious of:

  • Assuming that you know what the speaker is going to say next
  • Thinking about what you are going to say while the other is talking
  • Preoccupation with your appearances or trying to impress
  • Judging or being critical of the speaker
  • Trying to look interested, but not hearing what the other person is saying
  • Tuning out because the information conflicts with your ideas and beliefs
  • Interrupting so you can argue your idea or find holes in the other person’s argument
  • Tuning out because of how the speaker is talking – too loud, unpleasant or because the speaker is monopolizing the conversation

We filter information through our biases, values, emotions, meaning of words, and physical frame of mind. Be cautious of:

  • Hearing what you want to hear and not what is really communicated
  • Past negative experience coloring what you hear
  • Attempts to hear something that fulfills your wishes or desires
  • Forming an opinion about the value of what is being said, i.e., too boring, too complex, nothing new, unimportant, wanting the speaker to get to the point
  • Emotionally charged words used in communication like absolutes, assumptions, and demands: "you should," "you have to," "you lack," "you never," "you always," "you fail to understand," "every time you," "you are confused," etc.
  • Low energy and how this impacts listening and responses
  • Assuming your own meaning of words and expressions is the same as the speaker

How to Listen Effectively

  1. Prior to the meeting, recognize and understand the emotions. Are you nervous? Are you angry at the other person? Are you frustrated about something? Ask yourself what is causing the emotion. Are you carrying the emotion over from one issue to another? Are there personal problems from home that are interfering with work?
  2. When meeting, pay attention to the speaker. Resist distractions. Put down your pen, make good eye contact, and lean forward to show your interest. Don't interrupt. Jot down notes if it helps.
  3. Listen with an open, curious mind. Do not judge what the other person is saying as "wrong." Clarify meaning by asking questions to get additional information. Try: "Please help me understand …" or "How did you say that happened?"
  4. Don't react to emotional outbursts. Talk to the other side about their emotions. Talk about your own emotions. Acknowledging emotion proactively will stop it from dominating the discussion. Examples of what you can say "You feel that…" or "It must have been frustrating to have …"
  5. Reflect and clarify on meanings. After the speaker is finished say "Did I understand you correctly that you are saying …?" "Let me see if I have this correctly, …" "From you point of view, the situation is …" Try summarizing, mirroring, or reframing.
  6. Summarize to bring the discussion and check progress on moving forward.